1. Pittsburgh Penguins v 8. New York Islanders
The New York Islanders are the surprise package of the NHL by making the playoffs. John Tavares has been one of the best performers of the season in leading his team to the number 8 seed. However, they face the heavily stacked Pittsburgh Penguins in a very difficult match up for the Islanders. Even with Sidney Crosby doubtful, as he recovers from a broken jaw, the Penguins have goal scoring talent in Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla and Pascal Dupuis as well as a goal threat from defenceman Kris Letang that will make them hard to beat throughout the playoffs.
2. Montreal Canadiens v 7. Ottawa Senators
This all Canadian affair promises to be an intriguing affair. The Sens finished the season strongly, boosted by the return on Norris Trophy winning defenceman Erik Karlsson. The Canadiens clinched a playoff spot well before the end of the season but finished the season on a 4-6-0 run. The match up of goal tenders could be crucial with Craig Anderson of the Sens leading the league in save percentage. The Canadiens are the two seed and are favourites to advance but Ottawa showed last year they can compete in the playoffs when taking the number 1 seed New York Rangers to seven games and have shown resilience this season to make the playoffs despite injuries to key players. This spirit may take them through this match up where all the pressure is on Montreal.
Verdict: Ottawa Senators
3. Washington Capitals v 6. New York Rangers
Both sides finished the season very strongly, Caps (8-1-1) and Rangers (7-3-0), to head into the playoffs in good stead. This will be the fourth playoff meeting between the two in the last 5 seasons,so there is a lot of familiarity in this match up. The Caps won 2 with the Rangers winning 1, that Rangers win being last season in seven games. Alex Ovechkin has been in inspirational form in the second half of the season, leading the league in goals. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the leagues leading goal tenders and this could be a clash of Ovechkin and Lundqvist. The Caps have the best Power Play in the league so for New York to succeed they will need to stop Washington having too many man advantages. Washington have won all the must win games they had down the stretch, something that cannot be said for the Rangers. If that trend continues in the playoffs then the Caps will advance.
Verdict: Washington Capitals
4. Boston Bruins v 5. Toronto Maple Leafs
This original six match up will generate plenty of excitement, especially in Toronto who are appearing in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Boston were poor down the stretch, had they been better they would be the two seed, with Toronto being mildly better. Boston have the experience of winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 so are better experienced to turn it on for the playoffs. These teams meet regularly as they are in the same division but Toronto may find that the Bruins are a different animal in the rough and tumble of the playofffs.
Verdict: Boston Bruins